In the previous articles we looked at the distribution and phylogenetic position of babirusas, and also at a bit of their behaviour, biology and morphology. While babirusas are famous for the bizarre upper canines that emerge from the dorsal surface of the snout in males, the function of these teeth remains uncertain. As we saw in the previous article, it’s been proposed that they function in display, in fighting, or in helping the animal to push its way through dense vegetation. The latter idea is least likely and is unsupported by observations. The fighting idea might seem logical and indeed MacKinnon (1981) proposed that a fighting male might hook one of his upper canines over one of the lower canines of his opponent, thereby both disarming the opponent and allowing unprotected access to his throat and face.
Incidentally, the picture above is one of Charles Tunnicliffe’s paintings from his Asian Wild Life Brooke Bond picture card set (for previous musings on this volume see my article on the most fantastic jerboa).
The idea that the teeth function in fighting is not supported, however, by the fact that the teeth are brittle and easily broken. They’re also only shallowly rooted in their sockets (apparently), and are reportedly unsuited for withstanding large leverage forces (Macdonald 1993, Macdonald et al. 1993).
Furthermore, fighting male babirusas don’t use their upper canines at all, rather they stand bipedally and ‘box’ and prance round each other, each trying to either bite the opponent, or impale it on its lower canines [adjacent image from here: additional images - from the BBC series Life of Mammals - shown below]. Clayton (2003) reported that a combatant may be lifted clear of the ground during one of these fights, and that severe wounds may be inflicted on the neck of the lifted individual. It appears most likely that the upper canines function in display, though I don’t know of any studies testing this empirically.
For previous babirusa articles see…
- The deer-pig, the Raksasa, the only living anthracothere… welcome to the world of babirusas
- Are anthracotheres alive and well and living on Sulawesi? No, but it was a nice idea. Babirusas, part II
- What’s with the bizarre curving tusks? Babirusas, part III
For other Tet Zoo articles on artiodactyls see…
- McGowan’s mystery bovid
- The legend of Hogzilla
- Welcome…. to the world of sheep
- Return…. to the world of sheep
- Tet Zoo picture of the day # 23 [on entelodonts]
- Deer oh deer, this joke gets worse every time I use it
- Duiker, rhymes with biker
- Sable antelopes and the miseducation of youth
- Giant killer pigs from hell
- The plasticity of deer
- Over 400 new mammal species have been named since 1993
- Great Asian cattle
- Stuffed megamammal week, day 1: Khama
- Stuffed megamammal week, day 2: Eland
- Stuffed megamammal week, day 3: Okapi
- Death by lightning for giraffes, elephants, sheep and cows
- Dromomerycids: discuss
Refs – –
Clayton, L. 2003. Tusk master. BBC Wildlife 21 (1), 52-57.
Macdonald, A. A. 1993. The babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa). In Oliver, W. L. R. (ed) Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Status Survey and Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Pigs and Peccaries Specialist Group & IUCN/SSC Hippos Specialist Group (Gland, Switzerland), pp. 161-171.
– ., Bowles, D., Bell, J. & Leus, K. 1993. Agonistic behaviour in captive Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa). Mammalian Biology 58, 18-30.
MacKinnon, J. 1981. The structure and function of the tusks of babirusa. Mammal Review 11, 37-40.